Face-to-face with customer passion: A day in the Telia store

The transition of moving from a polished office matrix with sheltered sofas and fresh fruit to the real-life hustle and bustle of a Telia store is like rolling down the window from the padded insides of a luxury car and sticking your head out the window on a busy highway. We’re at Sweden’s biggest shopping mall, Mall of Scandinavia, and in one of Telia Company’s flagship stores.

Energy drink – there seems to be an opened can of it everywhere around the back office. Cans, and the odd half-eaten sandwich. Downtime is a rarity here so you fuel up when there’s time, simple as that. Whatever doesn’t get eaten or drunk is left behind to dry up or go flat, until someone gets a few seconds to clear it away.

One of 85 Swedish Telia stores, the Mall of Scandinavia one opened in Solna, Stockholm in November 2015. Seven out of Telia’s 19 600 employees work here, and Store Manager Elin Axelsson has been with it since the start.

“What does that mean?” Axelsson smiles a bit awkwardly and looks sincerely suspicious when asked how she ”copes”, as in keeping her energy up and spirits high. “I enjoy working here,” she replies. “You can’t be here if you’re not the right person. You need to be truly interested in people and have a passion for giving any person a great experience. And I guess you can say you need to keep your own stuff in check. Know who you are, so to speak.”

She runs off at times, and comes back again. Occasionally yells an answer to a question from one of her colleagues in the office space next to the kitchen, where she’s sitting down for a few minutes. Still, she’s one hundred percent present in the conversation. She listens, considers and explains – her eye contact never wavering.

Meeting her, one can’t really help going back in time, trying to remember if you were as together yourself at the age of 21. But it’s hard to remember.

She’s proud of what she does. She is convinced that most people who pass by or walk in here associate Telia with a sense of security. Something solid.

“In most ways, that’s a good thing. In here, we will basically go to the end of the world to support our customers, in any situation with any service. But it also means we work on showing them that they can come on a journey with us. That is the journey where they discover that we actually have really cool, top-quality and digital services. I feel, honestly, proud of our services. They are amazing, and often I can see that the customer agrees. I feel good about that, because I know will help someone.”

Axelsson says that everyone who works here, take it very seriously.

"We do take calls from customers in our spare time and on weekend evenings. Most of us even come by on days off from time to time to make sure a particular customer case is being handled or just to chat to a colleague. We are a passionate group of people.”

They are certainly right in the middle of it; the Mall of Scandinavia is the biggest shopping mall in Scandinavia. Sure, it really is just a shed in comparison to the world’s biggest and flashiest shopping centers. But in 2017, 14 million people walked through the doors and into one of almost 300 stores here. From the opening year of 2015 to the following year, retail growth figures for Solna municipality sky-rocketed by 69 percent – much because of the new mall.

And the Swedes love it. Already in 2016, it was voted “favorite shopping mall” by people in Stockholm and it won the “2016 Best International Shopping Center” by Retail and Leisure International Magazine.  The Nordic Council of Shopping Centers rates the Mall of Scandinavia as “Sweden’s best shopping center”.

So, Axelsson and her colleagues get a lot of visitors.

“We need team members here who can understand what we’re trying to do and who understand people dynamics. We work for the customer here, for real, and we all support each other to be able to achieve it. We’re not really looking for the typical ‘slick salesperson’ here, this job is about a genuine interest in an individual’s situation and understanding their needs,” Axelsson says.

Patrik Almkvist, who is the head of several Telia stores in the middle region of Sweden, says that he is driven by witnessing people excel.

“Some are perhaps in their first job and are looking to eventually move on. But then, some are here to grow and to move on within Telia. And I can tell you, many see that there is an actual opportunity for them to do that. They see a culture here that they feel they can be part of and contribute to."

It works. One customer, Helen, has come in to see if she can upgrade her own subscription and find out what options there are for her seven-year-old son. He is about to start using his first, very own smartphone.

“I am not totally unaware of what offers are out there, but I felt it was time to come in and talk so someone in detail. I don’t have the energy to search for and read everything on my own online this time.”

She disappears with a sales agent. 15 minutes later, she’s walking out the door.

“It was great,” she says. “I just talked a bit about what my son and I use our phones for and then I got a couple of suggestions. They seem quite young, I don’t get how they already know all this stuff. Impressive, a really nice experience.”

Natalie Davidsson works here too.

“The real value is the colleagues, the team feeling," she says. "We get to know each other well. I can always count on the support of my colleagues here.”

“By the way,” she adds, “you should talk to Johan. He just did something really cool.”

She’s talking about Johan Hellquist. The other week he met a customer with a 50-employee company and who had been sent back and forth for weeks by other telcos, operators and store agents. Hellquist realized that all that the man wanted was to sort out 50 subscriptions with useful services for his employees.

“He had one or two more complicated requests, but I sat down with him and we talked trough everything. Now he has my direct phone number, he is happy with his company’s services and he is very grateful when he comes in to update or upgrade something.”

Hellquist started working in the store because he thought it could be a good way to combine his interest in both people and technology.

“Telia seemed like a good place to work with both, and it is a cool place. Anyone can learn the basics of working here, but then comes the real work. That is to be there when it happens, to understand that you’re standing opposite a human being who needs our help.”

Hamza Akgun runs into the kitchen for quick zip of energy drink. The word around several Telia stores is that Akgun is more passionate than most. In every way.

“I don’t know about that,” he says and smiles. “Maybe it’s just the way I am. I want everybody to feel they are getting something special. I mean, how could I not make sure they are as happy with us as they can possibly be? It’s true that I offer some of them my home phone number so they can call at any time. And some of them do. I solve the tough issues and make sure I find answers to the hard questions."

Elin Axelsson comes back into the kitchen with a lunch box of meatballs and mashed potatoes. She eats quickly while checking her emails. Then she's off again.

"I'll be with you in a second," she tells her interviewer.